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AS LEAVES DROP, BIRD WATCHING IMPROVES

Excerpted from an article by George Ellison for the Asheville Citizen-Times/USA Today Network

“From now until the first ice storm in mid-January is a period that’s invigorating without being bitterly cold or slushy.  It’s always been a good time to get outdoors for some birding – or just watch them through the kitchen windows as they come and go at regular intervals.

Mid-fall is when we are on the lookout for those species that nest in the northern hardwood and spruce-fir regions of the Southern Appalachians – where they reach the southernmost limits of their breeding ranges – but come down to the lowlands in the fall to winter:  golden-crowned kinglets, winter wrens, black-capped chickadees, brown creepers, red-breasted nuthatches and juncos.  Of these, one of our favorites is the winter wren, a species found throughout temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, and the only wren species found outside of the Americas….

According to the online “Birds of North America” site (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) this species is unique among North American wrens in its association with old-growth forests.  It uses snags, downed logs, and large trees for nesting, foraging and roosting.  Some European populations inhabit highly human-modified habitats year-round and are known as garden birds.

The winter wren is noted for its song – a sparkling series of high-pitched bubbling warbles and trills – that may last for up to seven seconds and contain more than 100 notes.  Most singing occurs during breeding season, but it has been noted in every month of the year.  “On rare occasions the listener may be favored by antiphonal singing, when the refrain is carried on by two or more musicians – as soon as one utters his last note, another begins, round after round, so charmingly synchronized that the performance becomes a never-to-be-forgotten experience.” (Arthur Stupka/Great Smokies National Park)

In late fall and winter, the little bird’s presence is usually announced by abrasive “chirrs” or harsh “tik-tik-tik”cockced over its back, this species is unmistakable.  At high elevations, the tiny brown sprite creeps mouse-like through the forest at ground level, darting in and  out of hollow logs and tangles of vegetation.  In the lower elevations, it  is attracted to home sites, where it flits in and  out of the openings in stacks of firewood and ventures underneath structures seeking insects.

Winter wrens are without doubt our most inquisitive bird.  And for whatever reason, they are seemingly fascinated with human beings.  I have had them follow me along trails for several hundred yards, bobbing up at intervals to make sure I am aware of their presence.  They enter our house and inspect the premises when an open door or window allows access.  They are irresistible.”

SOURCE:  George Ellison is a naturalist and writer.  His wife, Elizabeth Ellison, is a painter and papermaker who owns a gallery in Bryson City, NC.

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